During the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin highlighted the importance of the colonies working together by saying “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” This quote came to mind this past week when I was in Washington, D.C., for the Rally for Medical Research.
For many years, biomedical research groups each advocated for their own specific interests. Heart advocates highlighted the importance of heart disease and those touched by diabetes spoke about why research into diabetes was so important. In cancer research, the focus became even more granular, with separate groups advocating for more research funding for specific types of cancer. In addition, physicians, researchers, and patient activists often advocated separately.
Each of these efforts was important and well-meaning, but resulted in confusion. Our legislators, who make the decisions concerning federal research funding, don’t have the background to decide which research areas are more important. Those who understood the importance of biomedical research would not know which way to turn, and so would often focus their attention on the diseases that personally had effected their family and friends. The result was what could be called “disease wars” with advocates with an interest in one disease arguing why their disease was more worthy of support than another disease. The importance of increasing overall funding for biomedical research was largely lost in the noise.
What was also lacking in the discussion was the clear evidence that research in one disease often has a major impact on another. There are hundreds of examples. To mention just a couple: Research in bone marrow transplant for leukemia that focused on bone marrow stem cells has led to unexpected advances exploring the potential use of stem cells to regrow heart blood vessels in patients with coronary artery disease. Research into HIV/AIDS was instrumental in enhancing our understanding of the immune system, which has led to major advances in cancer immunotherapy that are now benefiting cancer patients.
Step by step, we have learned the lesson that Mr. Franklin tried to teach us. Last week, advocates for research in cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many other diseases, including physicians, researchers and patients, joined forces and were successful in hanging together to highlight the importance of biomedical research. Working together provided a great opportunity to emphasize to our lawmakers the importance of biomedical research in both reducing pain and suffering and boosting our economy.
To learn more about this joint effort, go to http://rallyformedicalresearch.org/Pages/getinvolved.aspx and join us as we all “hang together” in support of biomedical research.